President Biden is facing mounting criticism over his lackadaisical responses to the devastating Maui wildfires that have killed at least 111 people.
When first asked about the blaze on Sunday, the president told a reporter “no comment” as he lounged on the beach near his vacation home in Delaware. His response sparked outrage among Republicans and even some of his Democratic allies.
And on a bike ride along the Delaware coast, Biden simply replied that he was “looking at him” when another reporter asked if he wanted to discuss the Maui tragedy.
On Tuesday, Biden appeared to forget Maui’s name, referring to the island in a speech in Milwaukee as “the one you see on TV all the time.”
Later in the speech, Biden cleaned up his language and said he and First Lady Jill would travel to Hawaii ‘as soon as possible’ but did not want to ‘hinder’ recovery efforts as the death toll rises. .
The White House officially announced Wednesday that the president and Jill will travel to Maui on Monday “to meet with first responders, survivors, and federal, state, and local officials following deadly wildfires.”
The 80-year-old smiled as he entered his waiting motorcade, but refused to answer questions about Hawaii
“Can you tell us about your trip to Hawaii? asked a curious reporter on Thursday for more details about the planned shutdown.
“No, not now,” Biden replied, earning even more backlash.
Biden will travel to Maui from Lake Tahoe – where he arrives Friday for a vacation. The president had originally planned to spend six days at the posh Nevada vacation spot, but opted to cut the trip short after the blowback.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was also asked in the White House briefing room why Biden had not addressed the issue in detail or announced a trip.
She pushed back on criticism of the president’s handling of the Maui wildfires, insisting on Wednesday ahead of the official announcement, “we take this incredibly seriously.”
“You will continue to hear from the president. He can’t wait to get to Maui, to see for himself,’ she told CNN’s This Morning.
The president also ignored multiple questions shouted by reporters throughout the week, who wanted an update on the federal response to the disaster.
He quickly moved past the group of White House reporters and ignored questions about fire response while crossing the South Lawn to Marine One several times during the week.
At Camp David on Friday, Biden ignored questions after a photo op with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
The leaders are expected to sign a new security pledge, agreeing to consult in the event of a crisis in the Pacific, a plan that China has called “exclusive groups and cliques” and which comes as North Korea is expected to test a new round of missiles.
Biden’s initial “no comment” remark sparked outrage even from some of his Democratic allies.
‘I campaigned for you,’ former Hawaii lawmaker Kaniela Ing said Monday on X. ‘Now, as I lose dozens of my friends, family and neighbors. This?’
Instagram influencer Rogan O’Handley wrote on Twitter, now known as ‘X’, that the more we learn about Hawaii, “the more we learn why Joe Biden always responded with ‘no comment.’
“Something REALLY fishy is going on here,” he continued.
“President Biden completely ignored the people of eastern Palestine. Now he gives Maui residents the same treatment,’ Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, wrote on X.
Before Biden announced his visit, Republicans compared his absence to East Palestine, Ohio — where a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals, displacing hundreds of people. Biden had promised to visit the Ohio town but never did.
“Hey, maybe if we change the name from Maui to Ukraine, maybe they’ll pay attention to us,” former Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said, arguing that a one-time payment of $700 dollars pales in comparison to the tens of billions the United States has spent defending Ukraine against Russia.
Following the criticism, President Biden promised to offer assistance to Maui “for as long as it takes” before his trip to the island.
“The entire nation is with you as you recover, rebuild and mourn,” Biden said in a recorded message given to Good Morning America on Thursday.
The wildfire that erupted Aug. 8 in the city of Lahaina is now the deadliest in more than a century and the fifth deadliest on record in the United States.
“We will be with you as long as it takes, I promise you that,” the president added. He noted that the federal government had already taken steps to send hundreds of emergency personnel and thousands of meals and supplies to the blaze-torn tourist town.
Some 2,200 buildings were decimated by the inferno and around 1,300 people are still missing.
Crews are expected to continue searching the charred debris and have deployed cadaver dogs to search for survivors.
More than 3,000 people have registered for federal aid, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that number is expected to rise.
FEMA is providing $700 to displaced residents to cover the cost of food, water, first aid and medical supplies, in addition to qualifying coverage for loss of homes and personal property.
The Biden administration is also seeking an additional $12 billion for the government’s disaster relief fund, as part of its request for additional funding from Congress.
Joe and Jill Biden are seen enjoying the beach with friends on Sunday
An urban search and rescue team searches for human remains at a home destroyed by the West Maui Fire, in Lahaina on the island of Maui, Hawaii, Thursday, August 17, 2023
Some 2,200 buildings were decimated by the fire
Meanwhile, the Maui County Emergency Management Agency also came under attack for its response to the fire and the way citizens were alerted to the danger.
Agency Administrator Herman Andaya defended the department’s decision not to sound Lahaina’s alarm system, arguing that alarms are typically used for tsunamis and that citizens would have been trained to run towards the hills – from where the fire was approaching.
“The public is trained to seek higher ground in case the siren sounds,” Andaya told a news conference.
“If we had sounded the siren that night, we fear people would have gone mauka (mountainside) and if so they would have gone into the fire,” Andaya said.
But Andaya resigned on Thursday following the backlash of the sloppy response.